From the weekend of September 23th, Trump has reignited a debate on flag etiquette and free speech. It began at a rally in Alabama, where he was campaigning for incumbent senator Luther Strange in a runoff to fill the seat left vacant by Att. Gen. Jeff Sessions (a race which Strange lost). Though he made some controversial comments, the most memorable was where he referenced players who had kneeled during the anthem, calling them out with explicit language and urging coaches to fire them.
In response, many coaches and owners chose to either respond via Twitter or a public statement, though Trump had also tweeted out on his private account similar messages. There were also protests on the field—coaches and owners largely stayed with the players during the anthem as a sign of unity, and large portions of players kneeled or showed other signs of defiance.
This debate was sparked last year in September when Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem to protest social inequality. His advocates praised the silent protest, while others argued that the flag should be respected. There is flag etiquette in the U.S., however, people frequently break it and it is not enforced.
Free speech has been an issue of late, with some organizations trying to shut down controversial speakers on both sides, including conflicts at Berkley. Trump’s remarks may be ironic because of this, as he has promoted the free speech rights of alt-right marches in Charlottesville and other towns, but asked for NFL heads to fire the dissenting players—a call which has been heftily rejected by the NFL commissioners.
Though most of the ire has been drawn at the NFL, other sport agencies were in the news at a similar time. Just after the rally, Trump had withdrawn the customary invitation to visit the white house to the winning NBA team—in this case the Golden State Warriors. This was, according to Trumps tweet (Twitter was also the platform he used to withdraw the invitation), because Stephen Curry was having doubts about going. This referenced Curry’s vocal dislike of Trump, and afterwards NBA players such as LeBron James lined up in his support. Conversely, Nascar owners said they would not tolerate protests during the anthem, a policy much more in line with Trumps wishes.